A masterclass in tackling COVID-19 from Kerala, India
TRIVANDRUM, India – COVID-19 has gripped its reins on most sectors this year and restricted everyone to the confines of their home with school closures and Big Tech companies announcing Work From Home (WFH). We’ve read news about pre-apocalyptic grocery shopping (and stocking) and panic’s crippling effect has even trickled down into the stock markets.
A state in the Indian subcontinent tucked away into the southwestern Malabar coast has always been a little different from the rest of the country- whether it’s related to literacy, education, food habits and even political tastes. While the rest of the country has been dealing with religious and political clashes, Kerala is a shining example of how secularism should ACTUALLY work in a democracy- with all religions peacefully coexisting in the state.
And how Kerala deals with COVID-19 is a model that has been applauded internationally too. It is not that the state doesn’t have exposure to the virus at all- it is, in fact, the second-most affected state in India. Kerala, a small state in a developing country, has created a model which can be easily adopted by some of the most developed countries in the world.
This is not the first time that Kerala has locked horns with a deadly virus- back in 2018, Kerala fought against the Nipah virus outbreak valiantly and emerged successful at the end of it. Combating the Nipah virus, two years later, has been almost a sort of deja-vu (and deja-successfully combated) for health authorities. The coronavirus outbreak wasn’t exactly an alien concept to Kerala- the state was prepared and departments governing Kerala collaborated on efforts to guarantee successfully putting away the virus for good.
Communication is Key
The first and most important thing that Kerala focused on was to educate and inform all people using any and every possible mode of communication.
Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja Teacher, dubbed the ‘virus warrior’, ensured that a press meet would alert and inform the public on the coronavirus situation in the state on a daily basis.
Channels of communication have been so efficient that every person living in the state received updates on the route map of places visited by infected individuals. All of this happened in a very limited time-frame. People were mature and responsible enough to self isolate or approach health authorities to report symptoms.
A clear communication path is established- social media news may not always be accurate but even Kerala’s village folk receive updates on the coronavirus situation via the local authorities. Such is the system in place. Fake news is nipped in the bud and the government is joining hands with opposition parties (ironically) to promote public campaigns focused on hand hygiene and public education.
Travellers, regardless of the trip origin, were screened for unusual symptoms and all details from passengers were noted lest they needed to be contacted at a later stage. Those who appeared symptomatic were transported to a local district government hospital in a separate ambulance to be placed in an isolation ward. After the collection of samples, a further decision is based on the results of the test from the virology department.
If symptomatic, people were urged to head over to the hospital or local health authorities.
At grassroots levels, health workers visit homes of people to check for symptoms too.
The state government has also recruited and trained health volunteers in the state.
“We have been keeping surveillance on home quarantined persons through mobile tracking. But we found that some persons are not following the instructions. So we have decided to monitor them through house visits and brief them about the risks of breaking the home quarantine instructions. A team consisting of a health worker, police official and health volunteer will visit every home where persons are quarantined and verify their status.”
– Shailaja Teacher, Health Minister, Kerala
Alert but not in panic
The general public has been instructed to remain alert and to take all the necessary precautions. Wedding functions, religious meetings and events with a large volume of people involved have been called off.
Prisoners making masks!
The state government reached out to a rather unconventional hand to fight the acute shortage of face masks that people bought to keep themselves safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The inmates at the tailoring units of prisons at Thiruvananthapuram, Viyyur and Kannur were enlisted to make two-layered washable and reusable masks priced at Rs 15 to 20 (17-23p in GBP!) apiece.
Break the Chain: Mass Handwashing Campaign
Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja Teacher inaugurated the mass campaign to inform the public on the importance of hygiene to protect self and community during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We are able to minimise the spread of the deadly virus with early surveillance and people’s support. Now we need to follow personal hygiene as a healthy habit and wash our hands and face whenever we are in public contact. By doing it, we will be able to break the chain of virus infection.”
– KK Shailaja Teacher, as she washed her hand with an alcoholic hand rub solution
A Rs 20,000-crore (2.3 billion GBP) financial package
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced a financial package of Rs 20,000-crore to tackle the COVID-19 crisis and this includes Rs 500 crore for health initiatives and Rs 2,000 crore for loans and free rations like rice for a month.
“Our state is facing a big crisis, normal life has been hit by this pandemic. It has wreaked havoc on our economy and to revive the economy, we are announcing a Rs 20,000 crore package.”
– Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala Chief Minister
Take notes, rest of the world.